Unforeseen and unintended consequences

There are some great examples, many explored in ‘Freakonomics’:

AOL introduced a ‘profanity filter’ but in doing so blocked residents of Scunthorpe from pretty much everything,

The introduction of rabbits in Australia, as food, went wild and now rabbits are a feral pest

Rewards offered for the catching and killing of poisonous cobras led directly to them being bred to be killed and handed in for cash. When that illicit trade was discovered the reward was stopped. That decision led to the release of the bred cobras and an increase in the wold population!

Side passenger airbags led to an increase in child injuries as they were built for adults. Requiring the children to sit in the back led to more children being forgotten and suffering in over-hot and inadequately ventilated cars.

We Risk Assess, like every organisation, but when we do this we only think about known risks, and we try to identify the unexpected risks. What we never prepare for are the unexpected, unforeseen, hazards and events.

We are in the process of changing how lunchtimes work on the lower playground. The same issues we’ve talked about are still there – overly physical play, boys dominating the spaces, getting filthy, lost equipment, staff feeling disregarded. We have decided to take back control of the games being played and the equipment being used by simplifying things and literally by putting the keys to cupboard in the hands of lunchtime staff.

I wonder, though, what the unintended, unforeseen, consequences might be?

We are aiming for:

  • a better balance of access – so girls enjoy more time on the play area and greater options for play,
  • lower, at times, of the competitiveness level,
  • access by the less skilled or confident,
  • increased confidence and engagement by lunchtime staff,
  • complete and quality stock being maintained,
  • less muscle and more skill.

We anticipate, as a direct consequence:

  • increasingly competitive netball, basketball and dodgeball games,
  • there being pockets of children not physically active,
  • some staff engaging with children directly,
  • greater numbers on the slide and climbing frames,
  • huge games of ‘tiggy two base’,
  • complaints from those who only come to school for the football,
  • poor resilience, at least at first, and as a result basketball games not lasting the full session,
  • some children taking longer over eating as there is less rush for the playground.

We’ve worked out some of the resulting consequences – netballs will get kicked; basketball will lead to elbows in earholes; the lunch hall being full and us having to delay entry for some packed lunch eaters; staff may still feel an unfairness in task rotas; some children still feeling unsupported in accessing their right to play and to associate with who they want. We have anticipated a rise in demands – in pupil voice – and are ready to listen.

We are on Day 2 of the new scheme. We have seen girls straying on to the pay area, maybe to take some space long-term. We have seen more children at the other end, as basketball does not have the same level of appeal yet. We have seen evidence of mistaken understanding – lunchtime staff thinking a basketball and a netball are interchangeable items! We have seen games run out of steam and a third of pitch space being unused for ten minutes or so.

As for the unforeseen consequences; well they remain to be seen.

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